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About three years ago, World Fantasy Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor wrote an essay about Lovecraft’s Racism and the World Fantasy Award Statuette. Earlier this year, author and editor Daniel José Older started a petition to change the World Fantasy Award trophy to Octavia Butler. There’s been plenty of other discussion, but those are two of the pieces that stood out to me, and seemed to generate a lot of awareness and debate.

There is now a counter-petition to keep Lovecraft and fight back against the forces of the Social Justice League, or something like that.

I’m not sure we should make Octavia Butler the new WFA statuette, in part because I’m not sure any specific individual is the best image for an award meant to represent the world of fantasy. But I am 100% on board with getting rid of the trophy we have now.

WFA TrophyFirst of all, I’m sorry, but I find the trophy to be almost obscenely ugly. I get that it’s intended to be a caricature, and artist Gahan Wilson is obviously a skilled sculptor and artist. But Wilson’s style is described as “fantasy-horror” and “playful grotesque,” and I just don’t think one of the top awards in our field should be embodied by the word “grotesque.”

As numerous others have pointed out, there’s a deeper level of grotesqueness. Lovecraft undeniably influenced the fantasy and horror genre. He was also undeniably racist. In Nnedi’s blog post, she quotes Lovecraft’s 1912 poem “On the Creation of Niggers“:

To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.

This isn’t the only example of racism in Lovecraft’s work, though it’s one of the more blatant. Phenderson Djeli Clark has an essay examining Lovecraft’s racism at Racialicious.

Steven Stevenson disagrees, and posted a counter-petition to “Keep the beloved H.P. Lovecraft caricature busts (‘Howards’) as World Fantasy Awards trophies, don’t ban them to be PC!

The very first sentence describes Lovecraft’s “racism” in scare quotes — because sure, the guy’s writing was full of references to “subhuman swine” and the “negro problem” and “sneering, greasy mulattos” and how blacks are “vastly inferior” and “negro fetishism” and a cat called “Nigger Man” and so on. But let’s not leap to conclusions and label such things racist.

Stevenson admits that some of Lovecraft’s personal views were “less than ideal.” But he quickly explains that Lovecraft was a product of his time.

This excuse is, to use the technical term, bullshit.

Lovecraft was a product of his time, and spewed an awful lot of hateful, racist shit in his fiction and in his personal writing. There are a lot of other authors who were a product of that same time, and they somehow managed to avoid dousing every page in fetid, over-the-top racism.

This isn’t to say Lovecraft’s contemporaries were perfect. L. Frank Baum wrote a nasty editorial regarding the Sioux nation. I could barely finish Edgar Rice Burrough’s first Tarzan novel. But while it is important to acknowledge historical and cultural context, Lovecraft’s bigotry is pretty extreme, even when examined within that context.

Samuel Bowers co-founded the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and was convicted of murdering several civil rights leaders. He was a product of his time. You know who else was a product of that exact same time? Mister Rogers. Any given time will produce a whole range of people, from amazing, kind, compassionate human beings to frightened, hateful cowards.

There’s no need to deny that Lovecraft was an influential writer. And nobody’s saying you’re not allowed to read or even enjoy his stories. (Though you might want to check out How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things.) But let’s not pretend the man didn’t hold and espouse some despicable views on race.

Stevenson hits other tired buzzwords and phrases in his petition. It’s just the “humourless PC crowd” who want the trophy changed. Arguing for that change is suggested to be a “fascist act.” He also throws in an attack on “the misandry … promoted by many self-described ‘feminist authors’.” Because if you’re going to play Defensive Apologist Bingo, you want to fill the whole damn board!

The complaints about Lovecraft and the World Fantasy Award aren’t about “diminish[ing] him for being male and Caucasian.” It’s about wanting something other than the bulging decapitated head of an over-the-top racist to embody one of the highest honors in our genre.

So yeah, if I haven’t made it clear before, add my voice to the crowd calling for a change. I don’t know that the trophy should be any specific individual, but at this point, I think just about anything would be an improvement. (Please don’t take that as a challenge to come up with something worse.)

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
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Oct. 9th, 2014 01:35 am (UTC)
I'm surprised they don't just make it a dragon.
Oct. 9th, 2014 02:20 am (UTC)
THIS. I kinda thought it was, for some reason, having never actually gotten a look at it before. Because dear GOD that statue thing is horrible.
(no subject) - fiddlingfrog - Oct. 9th, 2014 03:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fiddlingfrog - Oct. 9th, 2014 04:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tsubaki_ny - Oct. 9th, 2014 03:44 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 9th, 2014 02:17 am (UTC)
That is a fugly statue. It should be changed on that alone. Didn't know that about Lovecraft but then, I've never read any of his works.
Oct. 9th, 2014 02:24 am (UTC)
My grandparents were born 1-5 years after Lovecraft. Also Yankees with ancestors but no money.

I never heard any of them use a racial slur. Nor did the quite extensive collection of letters they left include any slurs. One grandmother wrote a local newspaper column for years without using racial or ethnic slurs; the other grandmother published a few songs in the 1920s that didn't include slurs or stereotypes (they were mostly boring stuff about buggy rides and sweethearts and nobody really liked them).

Not saying my grandparents weren't as racist as the next random white person, because they probably were. Just saying that Lovecraft really went above and beyond. It really wasn't the case that white people of that generation automatically used slurs in their public and private writing. My very ordinary grandparents cleared that awfully low bar with no difficulty.
Oct. 9th, 2014 02:29 am (UTC)
Now I wonder how much of this is kneejerk reaction to accusations of racism because Nothing I Like Can Be Racist, and the general framing of People Like Us versus the PC Enemies of Fun, and if someone said 'this is an ugly statue, maybe we can have something else', how many of these Mighty Defenders of HPL would be up in arms.

... This is not to say that people shouldn't say 'Yo, Lovecraft was hella racist and also pretty sexist, now that you mention it'*. It is to say that maybe the anti-PC brigade should stop making it all about them and their epic quest to not have to think about the things that they like and basically 'Go Blue Team! Down with the Red Team'**.

* Because, he is. And really, even if that level of racism was normal, we're reading now and it's a good thing to know things like 'Lovecraft was influential, but also racist, so keep that in mind when reading his prose or deciding if you have enough 'dealing with shit' reserves to read him'.
** Being about that towards racism and sexism makes you an asshole. I don't care if you'd never discriminate against women/people of color personally. Don't treat things that still harm people like they are your college sports rivalry.
Oct. 9th, 2014 02:40 am (UTC)
I think a dragon would be great. I think Octavia Butler would be fine. I think a lump of abstract slag would be an improvement over Lovecraft's ugly face.
Oct. 9th, 2014 02:44 am (UTC)
I agree that the Ugly Bust represents an excess of ugliness and should be retired, and I am a great fan of Octavia Butler, but I'm boggled that so many well-meaning people want a female science fiction writer to represent the major award for fantasy. An award that explicitly excludes the genre in which she wrote.

The sexism in the subtext (of course she's a -lady- writer, she must have written -fantasy-) is just...

I can't even.
Oct. 9th, 2014 07:09 am (UTC)
I don't believe it is anything like that clear-cut. She is certainly best known as a Science Fiction author, but her works fundamentally defy those clear genre boundaries. Wild Seed is about god-like beings with magic. Kindred contains no science at all, just the conceit of time travel, and Butler herself described it as "dark fantasy". Fledgling is about vampires, even if there is the gloss of genetic engineering. Fundamentally, if we are looking for an anti-Lovecraft, someone who was a paragon of the field while engaging with race and identity rather than portraying diversity as an indescribable sanity-ripping horror, I believe one could do far worse than Octavia Butler. It is only if we presume that fantasy means elves and ren faire-esque settings that her work is decidedly non-fantasy.
(no subject) - attilathepbnun - Oct. 12th, 2014 11:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 9th, 2014 04:16 am (UTC)
I've always thought that the World Fantasy Award was ugly as hell. I don't know who thought it was a good idea but, wow. I can't imagine actually wanting to display the thing, regardless of the honor it represents. It's long past time for a change--for all of the reasons you discuss, Jim, as well as because, yeah, what a freakin' eyesore.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - scarlettina - Oct. 9th, 2014 01:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 9th, 2014 04:32 am (UTC)
People of their time
I just took a look at Wikipedia's entry for 1890 (one of the things Wikipedia is really good at is lists). Other writers born the same year as Lovecraft include Karel &Chacek;apek and Agatha Christie. It's also the year that Vannevar Bush, Groucho Marx, and Ho Chi Minh were born; "a man of his time" seems pretty limiting as an explanation of personality and beliefs.
Oct. 9th, 2014 04:42 am (UTC)
The Hugos are symbolized by a rocket ship. Hugo Gernsback was no prize himself, but his face isn't on the award. I don't see any reasonable reason why the fantasy award couldn't still be called the "Howard" but be symbolized by a dragon.
Oct. 10th, 2014 02:01 pm (UTC)
Or maybe just Cthulhu. Or the goat Elder God. Basically, still have it be linked to Lovecraft and pay homage to his contributions to the genre without it being his face.
Oct. 9th, 2014 05:19 am (UTC)
how about for every year, they add a tentacle to the Lovecraft statue, and eventually it will encompass him and subsume... nosh nosh nosh..
Oct. 9th, 2014 07:43 am (UTC)
I have heard the suggestion that they make it a crystal ball, with each convention designing a unique base, similar to the Hugo tradition.

Also, Lovecraft was quintessentially a Horror writer; therefore even without the ugliness, I don't think he represents the best in fantasy.
Oct. 9th, 2014 09:03 am (UTC)
The comparison which leapt to my mind was Kipling: not an entirely unproblematic writer either, much more prolific and certainly 'of his time' but still with considerably more respect for the people and cultures he wrote about...

Or there is Tolkien, only two years younger and OK, eurocentric, but nothing like so arrantly and unusually racist, and with some strong anti-racist statements to his name if not so much in his work. If it was going to BE a white male fantasy writer born in the nineteenth century (although I can't see why it should be), then Tolkien would make much more sense than the relatively obscure and frankly not all that talented Lovecraft.

Poor Nnedi Okorafor! How awful to award someone something with such disturbing resonance as a prize. I personally don't dislike it as a sculpture (and it's perhaps a little comic that the sculptor has made him look vaguely Polynesian!), but art is about far more than just what it looks like.

I originally wondered if using the name 'nigger man' for a cat quite fitted in with the rest of your list, but thinking on, Lovecraft was American, so I suppose it does. I think it would have slightly different echoes from a European author of the same vintage.
Oct. 10th, 2014 03:18 am (UTC)
It would: N. in some part of my in-laws' Mennonite heritage (Which includes a lot of Low German but also some Russian and Dutch), used to be a pet name version of Black, like Blackie: Something you would call your dark-furred cat or dog. Not anymore, obviously, since its American meaning is very known, but not even as far back as the 19th century.

In fact, there's a family story about that, about someone who was calling her cat in after moving to Canada -- only to spot the black woman down the street too late.
(no subject) - bookishdragon - Oct. 12th, 2014 11:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bunn - Oct. 13th, 2014 08:36 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 9th, 2014 11:46 am (UTC)
I wonder why these guys never notice that they inextricably link unapologetic racism with being male and white, as if by extracting the former you've lessened the latter. It's a link people often make, whether they're racist, sexist, or whatever. Being a white man by necessity means they have to be hurtful to other people, they lose their identity without it. The implications baffle me.

Somehow, I think Mr. Rogers managed not to call anybody the n-word and he lived his whole life as a white man, undiminished.
Oct. 9th, 2014 12:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you for linking to the essay about being a fan of problematic things. I hadn't read it before and found it well thought out and helpful.
Oct. 9th, 2014 12:38 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome! I've found it to be very helpful, both as an essay and just as something to think about and be aware of.
Oct. 9th, 2014 06:00 pm (UTC)
I never understood why HPL was the statue to begin with. Honestly, while his work does fall under the aegis of Fantasy (in the broader terms) he's much more popularly thought of as a Horror author.

Personally, I don't like having the award be in the likeness of ANY person. The Oscars, the Tonys the Emmys the Grammys--none of those have the likeness of a specific person. Even in genre, the only other award that is a bust of someone is the Mystery Writers Award, the Edgars. (That I know of, I could have missed some along the way.)

Frankly, I don't particularly think we should lift *ANY* one author in the genre up above all others, as if that author is the single shining example of everything that is good and right with the genre. And that's what having HPL as the bust of the award does, and he's hardly the founder of the genre, nor some awesome/perfect representation of it.

It should be changed. Period.
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Jim C. Hines


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